While accusations of sexual misconduct with minors have plagued Alabama Senate hopeful Roy Moore and his supporters, the entertainment world’s own sexual assault crises have shown no signs of waning. On Thursday, 20 new counts of alleged inappropriate behavior were levied against embattled actor Kevin Spacey alone. Even so, sometimes the respective worlds of politics and Hollywood become aligned, as KABC TV and radio host Leeann Tweeden’s new account of a fateful 2006 encounter with Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota) demonstrates.
According to Tweeden, who publicized her written account with the #MeToo hashtag on Twitter Thursday morning, then-comedian Franken sexually assaulted her backstage before a 2006 USO Tour performance in the Middle East. As a “model familiar to the audience from the covers of FHM, Maxim and Playboy,” Tweeden assumed her primary role was that of a master of ceremonies. Franken, however, wrote a scene for the two of them in which “his character comes at me for a ‘kiss.'” She assumed they would play the moment as a gag for laughs on stage, but the comedian apparently had other plans:
On the day of the show Franken and I were alone backstage going over our lines one last time. He said to me, “We need to rehearse the kiss.” I laughed and ignored him. Then he said it again. I said something like, ‘Relax Al, this isn’t SNL…we don’t need to rehearse the kiss.’
He continued to insist, and I was beginning to get uncomfortable.
He repeated that actors really need to rehearse everything and that we must practice the kiss. I said ‘OK’ so he would stop badgering me. We did the line leading up to the kiss and then he came at me, put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth.
I immediately pushed him away with both of my hands against his chest and told him if he ever did that to me again I wouldn’t be so nice about it the next time.
If that weren’t enough, Tweeden alleges Franken repeatedly ridiculed her during the rest of the tour, lodging “petty insults” her way and “drawing devil horns on at least one of the headshots I was autographing for the troops.” When she fell asleep on the C-17 cargo plane that took the performers back home to Los Angeles on a 36-hour flight, the comedian posed with her and grabbed at her breasts without her consent for a photo op. Despite complaining to her husband and close friends, Tweeden ultimately kept quiet because she “worried about the potential backlash and damage going public might have on my career as a broadcaster.”
Following weeks of reports on Moore, Spacey and other male power players in Washington and Hollywood, however, the sportscaster and news anchor writes she is “no longer afraid.” This is especially the case since, following an interview with Rep. Jackie Speier (D-California) — who recently testified before Congress about its own problems with sexual harassment — Tweeden realized the connection:
A few weeks ago, we had California Congresswoman Jackie Speier on the show and she told us her story of being sexually assaulted when she was a young Congressional aide. She described how a powerful man in the office where she worked ‘held her face, kissed her and stuck his tongue in her mouth.’
At that moment, I thought to myself, Al Franken did that exact same thing to me.
Aside from the initial tweet and her published account, Tweeden hasn’t said anything else about her accusations against Franken. The senator, meanwhile, has not said anything public about his former USO Tour performing partner’s allegations against him.
UPDATE #1: In a brief statement to NBC News, Franken said, “I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann.” He also apologized for the photo, saying “it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it.”
UPDATE #2: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) issued a statement on Tweeden’s accusations against Franken. “As with all credible accusations of sexual harassment or assault, I believe the Ethics Committee should review the matter.”
UPDATE #3: Franken issued a much longer statement in response to Tweeden’s allegations. “The first thing I want to do is apologize: to Leeann, to everyone else who was part of that tour, to everyone who has worked for me, to everyone I represent, and to everyone who counts on me to be an ally and supporter and champion of women,” he wrote. “I’m sorry.” The senator also seconded McConnell’s previous call for an ethics investigation, saying he “will gladly cooperate.”